We happened upon this Ford Bronco earlier this year in Johnson Valley, California while we were in town for King of the Hammers. Held since 2007, the annual off-road race combines desert racing and rockcrawling, drawing hundreds of teams and tens of thousands of spectators to this small town outside of Yucca Valley, and Taad Janson’s 1968 Ford Bronco certainly looked to be in its element among the vast array of off-road vehicles on hand.
“When I was still in diapers, I saw a picture of a desert buggy that my Dad had built,” said Taad Janson of Fountain Hills, Arizona, of his earliest gearhead memory. “It was basically a stripped-down shell of a car with a V8 and huge airplane tires. They used to race around in the desert sands with it.”
Janson's Bronco bears all the character of a machine that's regularly used for the purpose it was designed for, taking him to fantastic off-roading spots in Utah, California, Colorado, and New Mexico as well as within his home state of Arizona. Janson installed a set of BC Bronco quarter-inch rock skis on the rocker panels and had ProtoFab weld up some nerf bars to them for additional pivoting protection. "I bobbed the front and rear lower quarter panel corners to make room for the bumpers to keep them up higher for better clearance," he told us.
That proved to be a formative moment in Taad’s life. Growing up, he would explore various aspects of hot rodding, building a ’68 Firebird street machine with a 400ci mill hooked to a four-speed, along with a ’64 Chevy Nova drag car, a big-block ’72 Oldmobile Delta 88, and even a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in the years since. “There were many more along the way, but those were my favorites – aside from the Bronco, of course!” he joked.
“I have loved the first-gen Ford Broncos since I was an early teen,” Taad explained. “Back in high school, a buddy of mine had one. I had an F-100 4×4 and thought I was a badass, but his stock Bronco could run rings around my truck in the trails. It hooked me on their capability.”
A heavy-duty tie-rod/drag link setup with one-ton tie-rod ends and a raised axle/drag link mount help to keep angles right and bump steer under control at the front end, while a Bent Fab-built anti-axlewrap ladder bar tied from the transfer case skid plate to the nine-inch axle housing is installed in the rear for bolstered rigidity. A quick-ratio, power-assisted Scout Saginaw box handles the mechanical end of the steering duties.
How It All Began
Purchased back in 1995 in very rough shape, Taad mentioned the Bronco has been in a constant state of modification ever since. “After I retire and have lots of time on my hands (and my Rock Buggy build is done), I’ll bring the Bronco back down from this extreme wheeling setup and get it back to a ‘purdy’ condition again. I can’t say how much I’ve invested in it so far or my wife would kill me! Let’s just say many times the original purchase price.”
While Janson’s Bronco proudly wears plenty of scars from its numerous battles with the elements, the upgrades he’s done to the Ford – most of which champion function over form – have resulted in one seriously capable off-road machine.
The remanufactured Ford 302 V8 that powers this ’68 Bronco is a pretty standard mill, with Pertronix ignition components and a Magnaflow two-into-one muffler serving as the performance modifications versus factory stock. The cooling system has been upgraded substantially, though, and sports a Bronco-specific Ron Davis aluminum radiator and shroud with a sacrificial anode type radiator cap. Wild Horses stainless air dams are installed in the top front of the radiator support, which force much more air through the radiator. Janson also installed a seven-blade mechanical fan blade setup to pull more air through the radiator, a Robert Shaw thermostat, and a beefier aluminum water pump. Though the carbureted mill has served Janson well, he says he has a late-model, fuel-injected 5.0 from a low-mileage Explorer that’s destined for this engine bay in the near future.
Riding on Allied 15×8 beadlock wheels wrapped in Goodyear Wrangler MTR 37×12.5 rubber, the front suspension benefits from upgrades that include 3.5-inch BC Bronco springs. Dual Rancho RS9000XL shocks at each corner are attached via ProtoFab hoops, while 4.5-inch Wild Horses 11 leaf, progressive springs hold up the back end. An additional two-inch Wild Horses body lift gives the Bronco extra clearance.
The Ford gets its motivation from a 302-cube Ford V8 with an Autolite 2100 2 bbl – “the best damn off-roading carb ever made,” says Taad – which is hooked to a C4 automatic that’s been upgraded with external cooling components.
The rearend is a Ford nine-inch unit with 31-spline axles and an Eaton Detroit Locker, while the front is a Dana 44 with Warn axles and CTM universal joints. For the transfer case, Janson is using a stock Bronco Dana 20 mated to a Marlin Crawler low-range transfer case section.
A '78 Bronco tilt-wheel steering column and Lecarra steering wheel have replaced the factory components. They hook up to the power steering box via a Wild Horses custom collapsible lower steering shaft. The dash of Janson's Bronco maintains its stock arrangement with add-on light switch panels for LED and underbody rock lights, an ARB compressor, and differential settings. An Autometer Phantom gauge package monitors the engine and transmission vitals while an Autometer mini-tach indicates the revs. An Art Carr gated transmission shifter handles gear selection duties, while a Marlin Crawler shifter and Klune V-twin stick shifters talk to the modified Dana 20 transfer case. Communications gear consists of a Radioshack 40 channel CB and Rugged Radio RH-5R handhelds.
“The Dana 20 low-range is 2.46:1 and the Marlin low range is 4.70:1,” Taad explained. “So I have gearing capabilities of 1:1, 2.46:1, 4.70:1 or 11.56:1. This is why I can get away with 4.11 gearing turning 37-inch tires – gearing is not a problem!”
"I installed an old-school Warn 8274 winch to the front because they're cool and bulletproof," Janson told us. Trucklite LED headlights replace the stock illumination and are powered by a Wild Horses relayed wire harness setup to get full power from the battery. Two eBay-procured 7-inch LED light bars and a single 12-inch LED light bar setup on the winch bumper provide additional light when wheeling at night.
In terms of body modifications, Janson personally cut and enlarged the wheel wells and installed the flares for tire clearance, and added other pragmatic modifications like custom hood louvers to aid in heat extraction.
“The custom dents and dings were performed by me, over years of hardcore trail running,” he quipped. The bumpers were custom made with 3/16-inch rectangular steel tubing that was cut and welded into shape. “They are very stout and high and tight to the body, providing great protection,” said Janson.
The truck’s uniquely weathered look has a backstory of its own, too. “When I took ‘My ole Bronco’ (nicknamed after the Luke Bryan song) out for its first wheeling trip after getting my Zolatone paint job done, I watched in horror while washing the mud off of it, as parts of the Zolatone paint came off with the mud,” he recalled. “That’s what has given the Bronco the unusual patina it has now, what I call Arizona Sandstone Camo. Oddly enough, I’ve had lots of positive comments about how it looks with the botched paint.”
Taad installed an Optima Yellow Top battery, which gets juice from a 135-amp Ford G3 alternator. All kinds of survival gear - a Hi-Lift jack, shovel, axe, pick, tools, spares, and so on - are normally secured in a Tough Box in the back or provided brackets. "It's vital to have enough of the proper tools and critical spare parts that your vehicle needs, as well as basic survival gear, food, and water for you and a passenger in case you have to spend a night or two in the outback," he pointed out.
Inside, driver and passenger sit in Beard suspension bucket seats while a full two-inch roll cage made from DOM steel tubing and PyroTec four-point racing harnesses keep the Bronco’s occupants safe. Although the Bronco forgoes HVAC systems for obvious reasons, Janson made sure that tunes were still available out on the trails by way of an Infiniti receiver he purchased from a spa supply company, a unit which is water and dustproof.
Since this is a never-ending project by Taad’s own admission, his road map for future modifications is already planned out to some degree – a low-mileage, fuel injected 5.0-liter Explorer motor is on the way soon, as well as a new wiring harness and some additional LED lighting. “It’s been a trusty steed, and it has many more years of wheeling to come,” Janson told us. “It will stay in the family as long as there is gas and parts to keep it running.”
Be on the lookout for the classic off-road rig in the deserts of Southern California. Where would be the first place that you would take the Bronco? Tell us in the comments below!